Michael Wattendorf — Student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology awarded 2012 Washington D.C. Princeton Prize in Race Relations

Written by
Princeton University
April 2, 2012

Michael Wattendorf, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, is the 2012 recipient of the Washington, D.C. Princeton Prize in Race Relations, the local committee announced today. The Princeton Prize in Race Relations is a national awards program run by volunteer alumni and sponsored by Princeton University to honor high school students in more than 20 cities and regions who have done significant work in their communities to improve race relations. Each student winner receives a $1,000 cash award and is invited to a Princeton Prize in Race Relations campus symposium on race. The symposium, which will take place next month on April 26-28, will feature lectures and workshops, and the student winners will give presentations on their projects.

The Washington D.C. Princeton Prize awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday May 8 and U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell '86 (D-Alabama) will be the keynote speaker.

Wattendorf has worked tirelessly to raise awareness on diversity and race relations at one of the nation’s most selective public high schools. He is the first White student to serve as president of the Black Student Union (BSU) at the school, commonly known as TJ. Wattendorf created TJInspire, a countywide mentoring program to encourage Fairfax County African American elementary school students to pursue careers in math and science. His efforts have sparked action on race and diversity issues among a more broad range of students at the school, and the BSU has seen increased diversity among its members as a result of Michael's groundbreaking leadership.

"TJ, located in a region with an African American population in excess of 15%, has an African-American student population of less than 2%," wrote BSU Faculty Advisor Haywood Torrence, Jr., in his letter of support for Wattendorf's application. "Mike has done a fine job as BSU president. He has spearheaded the organization’s efforts to encourage students from underrepresented schools to apply to TJ."

Washington D.C. committee co-chair David Marshall '93 said:  "The entire Washington, D.C. committee was impressed by Michael's leadership in TJ’s Black Student Union.  Specifically, his efforts to create programs that are designed to increase diversity at Thomas Jefferson truly embody the spirit of the Princeton Prize in Race in Relations."

Additionally, the local Princeton Prize committee announced that five students will receive Certificates of Accomplishment. These are not merely an acknowledgement for applying; they are awarded to students whose work may not meet the full criteria of the Prize, but whose efforts in addressing in race relations in their schools and surrounding communities is noteworthy.

Dorean Collins, a senior at The Field School, a private school in Washington D.C., planned and co-chaired the school’s first Diversity Day, which hosted a guest speaker with Tourette's Syndrome and Hirschsprung disease and sparked small group discussions on the rich differences of the Field School community. As a result of Diversity Day, the school has added an essay question on its admissions application on diversity and identity.

Gaby Mayers, a junior at Holton-Arms School, a private all-girls school in Bethesda, Md., worked on the exhibit, "RACE: Are We So Different?" as a docent at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, inspiring her to produce a video project on race and lead and also facilitate a race discussion among the Holton-Arms School faculty.

Vanessa Newman, a senior at James Hubert Blake High School in Olney, Md., founded Black Coffee Society, the first black student union at the Montgomery County public high school, which has drawn a diverse student membership and sparked dialogue about race and academic achievement. She has served as a mentor to African American female students and written several articles about race for the school’s monthly paper, "The Blake Beat."

Franck Simo, a senior at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., arrived at the Fairfax County public high school from Cameroon and sought to change the face of English As a Second Language (ESOL) students, who had never run for a school wide office. He was elected to a student government leadership position and pressed the school principal and faculty to better address the needs of ESOL students. He took on a leadership role in SLICE (South Lakes International Club for Education/Entertainment) and is active in City at Peace DC, a youth-development organization that uses the performing arts to combat racism and other issues.

Karen Vallejos, a senior at Washington-Lee High School, a public high school in Arlington Va., is a co-founder of The DREAM Project, a nonprofit group that supports and encourages minority and immigrant students to pursue higher education, and also works to prevent discrimination against undocumented students. With the support of the county school board and other local government groups, she has helped DREAM organize a mentoring program and raised funds for DREAM Project Scholarships, awarded to first-generation immigrant students from low-income backgrounds.

The 2012 Washington, D.C. applications were screened by a volunteer panel of Princeton alumni from the Washington region.

Launched in 2003 in Washington, D.C. and Boston, the Princeton Prize in Race Relations recognizes high school students in 24 cities and regions and is sponsored by the university’s Alumni Association.